Jack Puncochar booked a four-day weekend a while back, taking this coming Friday and Monday off work and planning to take his girlfriend to Arizona during the time off.
And then … the Gophers beat Penn State.
Puncochar, from St. Louis Park, still had four days off — and he still wanted to head out of town with his girlfriend. But the destination changed.
“I somehow convinced her to go to Iowa City with me instead,” Puncochar, 24, said.
He’s not alone.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck talks often about changing the culture within the program. With a 9-0 record and a defining win over Penn State fresh in a lot of minds, he’s also changing expectations — and travel plans — of a lot of fans.
Puncochar was one of many Gophers fans in communication this week who said the undefeated start, and particularly the Penn State win, spurred trips to away games starting Saturday in Iowa against the Hawkeyes. Here are their stories, all of which were shared over e-mail or direct message:
• Kyle Melcher, 29, of Owatonna, didn’t get to see any of the Penn State game because of a high school football coaching commitment. But on the bus ride after the high school game, he bought tickets “spur of the moment” and is “rowing to Iowa City” along with several friends and his girlfriend.
That’s a pretty significant investment for Melcher, who describes himself as a lifelong Gophers fan but one who hasn’t been to a football game in person since they lost to TCU in 2015.
“I told [my] dad I am not deer hunting with him,” Melcher said. “The deer will always be there! The Gophers … who knows?”
• Troy Steffenson, 54, falls into the “loyal” and “long-suffering” categories. Steffenson lives in St. Louis and said he proudly flies his Gophers flag every Saturday they play.
He’s made the trek to Iowa City — a little over four hours from St. Louis — for every Gophers game against the Hawkeyes since 1991. And he’s seen exactly one Minnesota victory, in 1999. He was going to go this year regardless, but suffice to say a win would mean extra to him.
“My faith in the Gophers has not changed much this year because they are 9-0,” Steffenson said. “I’ve been flying that flag every Saturday whether they were undefeated or getting pummeled by Ohio State.”
• Pat Fitterer, 34, said he’s been a Gophers fan his whole life after attending countless games with his grandfather at the Metrodome.
He booked his tickets to Iowa when the Gophers were 7-0 — springing for front-row seats to celebrate his mom (Julie), who turns 61 Thursday. The biggest thing he’s noticed this year is that fans who were only previously somewhat interested in the Gophers are fully on board now.
“I always wondered how annoyed I’d be if/when the bandwagon ever filled up, and I’m happy that the answer is, ‘not at all,’ ” Fitterer said. “It’s awesome.”
• Ryan Tate, 43, graduated from the U in 1999, and neither the Gophers’ up-and-down history nor the fact that he now lives in Missouri have kept him from following the football team.
But this season, he said, the Gophers have become “appointment TV,” and their potential for playing in big games later in the year has him checking travel and ticket sites often. He even mentioned the “R” word.
“I’m a football fan, but I’m not traveling to Indianapolis just to see the BIG Title Game of Ohio State, Penn State or a Michigan school take on the West winner. With the Gophers in contention, I am looking into tickets to the game,” Tate said. “I’m also looking at the costs of a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. It’s the one stadium and the one game I’ve always wanted to go to.”
• Noel Thompson, 33, lives in California and tries to follow a budget when it comes to his love for Gophers football. The Rose Bowl would be just a three-hour drive, should the Gophers wind up there.
But as soon as they defeated Penn State, he bought a flight and expensive game tickets for the regular-season finale against the Badgers at TCF Bank Stadium.
“The win over Penn State made me realize that I have to see this team play again,” Thompson said. “I cried last year when we beat [Wisconsin] for the first time in so many years.
‘‘Knowing that the UW game could have so many implications, I want to experience what other fans experienced at the Penn State game.”
• Connor Forbrook grew up watching the Gophers. He enrolled at the U in 2015 and went to all but one home game during his four years in school. He’s continued that streak this year even after graduating, but next weekend he’s taking it to another level.
Forbrook, 22, and some of his friends had previously planned to head to Iowa State for their matchup with Texas. But after going to the Penn State game and storming the field, things changed.
“Within 24 hours of the Penn State win, we sold our tickets at a loss, booked our hotel and bought tickets for Iowa City and will be heading down with I’m sure countless other fans to bring back Floyd to its original home,” Forbrook said.